How great was Janet Jackson on Lopez Tonight last night? Miss Damita Jo proved once why she is one of the true awesome forces of entertainment. Beyond that, some goofy Irish Catholic guy launched a new talk show on TBS. Yes, after ten months in television absentia, the Team Coco mothership landed with the debut episode of Conan. After being unceremoniously edged out at NBC and becoming a social media engendered phenomenon in the fallout, it was time for Conan to put the tweets aside, land the blimp and start the show.
Did we enjoy the debut of Conan? Hell yes. That said, it's
impossible for us to be impartial when it comes down to it, having
interned for the first three months of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
To some degree, we would have been pleased as punch even if they chose
just to show O'Brien make funny faces for 60 minutes, knowing that those
funny faces kept friends employed.
The only true demarcation of this episode being Conan's debut was a hilarious and well shot intro video dramatizing O'Brien's departure from NBC as a Godfather-esque execution and the proceeding months as a demoralizing trip through the job market including being turned down for employment by Don Draper because he "had no advertising experience" and due to Conan only being two years old in Mad Men's 1965 universe before finally being saved from jumping into the L.A. River by his guardian angel, Larry King.
Otherwise, it seemed like there was a concerted effort not to frontload the episode with pageantry. The segment after the monologue was a simple exchange between Conan and Andy Richter at the desk over a poorly made Conan Halloween mask which was painfully named "ex-talk show host" to circumvent copywright issues.
While it's too early to tell, it seems as though the new show may be relying less on showy bits and more on Conan and Andy's deft improvisational skills. Andy remained at the couch throughout the guest segments featuring Seth Rogen and Glee's Lea Michele, which was a much appreciated reverting to classic Late Night format. Richter's periodic interjections when Conan interviews guests prevents the segment from becoming a by the numbers plug-fest and turns it into a more spontaneous conversation.
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The final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien opened with Conan simply proclaiming that he just wanted to "have fun on TV." Well, he took that axiom to heart. The word that will likely be tosses around to describe the debut episode is "loose." Conan is clearly grateful for the opportunity to be back on our screens and is wasting no time in hitting the ground running and carving his own tradition of TV separate from Late Night and The Tonight Show. He's playing with the crowd, acknowledging his newfound Internet celebrity, riffing with Andy, and shredding with buddy Jack White. The show was freewheeling and not bogged down with the burden of expectation. Conan simply entertained.
Much hay will be made in the press today over Conan's ratings and what they mean for the future of late night and whether he can sustain it and etcetera. (Our guess is that a gazillion people tune in and Conan ascends from mere talk show host to ruler of a benevolent dictatorial meritocracy, but we never were good at predictions).
Ultimately, now isn't the time to evaluate exactly what Conan will become. It will evolve in the upcoming month and viewership will likely ebb and flow. Normalcy, however, has been restored to the comedy landscape, as Conan O'Brien and the rest of Team Coco have returned from their tumultuous exile no worse for wear, if not a bit hardened. We can now seek solace in the Cone Zone four days a week, and if we're feeling up to it we may venture into the Lopez Lair, provided he keeps up the Ms. Jackson action.